Shoreby Hill named to National Register of Historic Places
A turn-of-the-century neighborhood in Jamestown has received federal recognition for its contributions to the history of architecture, community development, landscape architecture and social history.
Edward F. Sanderson, executive director of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, announced that the National Park Service has added the Shoreby Hill Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register is the federal government’s official list of properties throughout the United States whose historical and architectural significance makes them worthy of preservation. Shoreby Hill is an excellent example of a planned garden suburb, designed as an exclusive residential neighborhood during the last decade of the 19th century.
The Shoreby Hill Historic District includes 90 residential properties on 54.5 acres on the east shore of Jamestown, just north of the central business area. Sited on a prominent hill, the district is composed of two distinct plats. Recorded in 1898, Lower Shoreby Hill has a curvilinear street pattern appropriate for the hilly topography and typical of picturesque landscape design of the period. Upper Shoreby Hill, platted in 1911, features a rectilinear grid layout, which provided a more economical, predictable development pattern. Original landscape features include privet hedges interplanted with maple trees, native trees and shrubs, and tended open spaces such the green and the meadow.
For hundreds of years, the area now occupied by Shoreby Hill was in agricultural use. The land was known as the Greene family farm, and the Greene farmhouse at 55 Longfellow Road was probably built in 1712. The Society of Friends acquired the property in 1840 and operated Quaker Farm until 1890. By that time, Jamestown was being transformed from a remote agricultural community to a fashionable summer resort. Interconnected railroad lines and boat service – including a direct ferry to Newport by 1873 – connected Jamestown with ports and railway hubs along the eastern seaboard. Its small hotels and rented rooms eventually gave way to larger hotels and summer cottages built especially for summer renters.
Some visitors began to construct their own summer cottages. At Shoreby Hill, a group composed mainly of St. Louis residents formed the Jamestown Land Company to develop a private enclave. In 1895 the company entered into an agreement to purchase the 58.5-acre Quaker Farm for $75,000. Boston civil engineer and landscape architect Ernest W. Bowditch was hired to plan the subdivision and its lots, streets and infrastructure.
Trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bowditch designed large estates, wealthy suburbs and resort communities. His firm had offices in Boston, New York and Cleveland, staffed by 60 engineers and 14 foresters or gardeners, who carried out work on over 2,500 projects between
1870 and 1910. Bowditch was skilled in designing efficient, orderly and beautiful communities for upper and upper-middle class Americans. These environments met the dual challenges of creating naturalistic environments while also providing the most up-to-date roads, sidewalks, sewer and water systems, and park spaces for recreation.
Site work at Shoreby Hill got underway in 1896, and by the fall of 1897, cottage construction had begun around Alden, Emerson and Longfellow roads. Most of these large shingle and colonial revival-style residences were built for families from St. Louis, many of them related by marriage or business. After the initial surge of development between 1897 and 1903, house construction paused for about eight years. The second subdivision of Shoreby Hill was platted in 1911, and by 1917, 33 new houses were constructed. Another 13 houses were built by 1931 – generally more vernacular interpretations of the shingle and colonial revival styles or bungalow and four-square styles. As many of the new residents were associated with the United States Navy, Shoreby Hill became a vibrant military community.
Though there was a construction lull during the Depression and World War II, the completion of the Jamestown Bridge in 1940 opened Jamestown to direct vehicle traffi c from the mainland and made possible postwar suburban development. Between 1945 and 1960, six new houses were constructed on Shoreby Hill – predominantly Cape Cod or ranch-style houses. Many of the subdivision’s summer cottages were converted to yearround use. Post-1960 construction has resulted in generally Cape Cod or ranch-style homes.
The National Register nomination for Shoreby Hill Historic District was prepared by preservation consultant Arnold N. Robinson. According to the RIHPHC’s Edward F. Sanderson, “Shoreby Hill recalls Rhode Island’s preeminence as a desirable location for seaside living in the late 19th century. Today the neighborhood’s historic architecture and landscape enhance Jamestown’s community character.” Funding for the nomination came from a Preservation Is Local Grant from the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission.
As the state office for historic preservation, the Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission is responsible for reviewing and submitting Rhode Island nominations to the National Register.